Northwoods Haunts: Asylums

By Northwoods News Staff

The Clark County Asylum has rightfully claimed its place as one of the most haunted places in Wisconsin. Built on 1,065 acres of land in Owen in 1920, the asylum was intended to serve as a long-term care facility for patients with debilitating mental health issues. By the mid-1930s, the Clark County Asylum housed over 300 patients.

Residents of the asylum experienced inhumane treatments such as electroshock therapy, submersion in ice water, and bloodletting. It is reported that a group of patients attacked and even killed some of the staff members who subjected them to these treatments during an uprising.

Visitors to the asylum reported witnessing apparitions, odd sounds and even disembodied voices. Many Wisconsinites declare this to be one of the most haunted, if not the most haunted, building in the state.

American Horror Story creator Ryan Murphy could arguably have taken inspiration from the tales from Clark County Asylum for American Horror Story: Asylum or Ratched.

The building is now known as the Clark County Rehabilitation and Living Center. Its website states that the facility “has provided care for the elderly, mentally ill, and developmentally disabled in our rural Wisconsin community since 1922.”

Another haunted asylum in the state that lives on in legend is the Wood County Asylum.

Currently the location of Marshfield Scrap, the land was previously home to the Wood County Asylum from 1909 to 1974. The asylum opened on June 10, 1910, with accommodations for up to 250 patients and 19 staff members.

Similar to Clark County Asylum, treatments for patients ranged from electroshock therapy to bloodletting. Bizarre occurrences were reported at the facility throughout the decades. In 1936, one of the barns was destroyed by a fire. In the 1960s, a string of short-term administrators came through the asylum, and none of them staying for long. It is rumored that certain orderlies mistreated patients and were quickly escorted off the premises.

When the original asylum building closed in the 1970s, it was stripped of many items by those brave enough to visit. Doors, chandeliers and even a cross from the chapel disappeared. Some say the thieves went so far as to take the souls of the dead.

The Wood County Asylum has earned its reputation as one of the most haunted places in Wisconsin because of the lore that originates from the deaths of past inhabitants. The underground tunnel is reported to be the location of most ghost sightings, including a maintenance man, a patient who may have seen the face of the devil in the boiler room, and a young girl with dark hair who was also seen in the windows of the building.

Demolition of the asylum began in 2005. The unusual lack of insects and rodents was noted, as well as rings of candles, pools of blood and bloody handprints. Those who took photos of the inside of the building, even on a clear day, reported seeing a white fog appearing when the photos were developed.

Different groups of paranormal investigators have found anomalies with photographs and EVP readings. The current owners of the property report bells ringing on windless days, the inability to use radio equipment in certain locations, inexplicable images appearing on surveillance footage and frequent lightning strikes.

One of the Wood County Asylum barns remains as a historical marker in the Norwood Industrial Park in Marshfield.

These two former asylums remind us how far we have come in the treatment of mental illness, and offer a warning to treat the spirits of those who have passed with the utmost respect.